Wisconsin union members wary after contract collapse

By   /   December 16, 2010  /   News  /   No Comments

By Kevin Lee     Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Local union members are unnerved and uncertain about striking a new labor agreement after the contracts they negotiated with Gov. Jim Doyle fell one vote short of passage in the Wisconsin Senate.
The Wisconsin Senate on Wednesday voted 16-16 on all 17 proposed contracts covering the 2009-2011 biennial. Two Democrats, Jeff Plale of Milwaukee and former Majority Leader Russ Decker of Wausau, joined Republicans in opposition.

The Wisconsin Senate quietly adjourned Thursday morning without reconsidering the proposed contracts at the heart of Wednesday’s dramatic proceedings.
“It’s reprehensible. This does nothing but destroy what is already low morale for state employees,” said Cyndi Taylor, an administrative assistant at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, and president of AFSCME Local 1449 in La Crosse.
Senate Majority leader until Wednesday, Decker was stripped of his leadership title after he voted against the contracts on the Senate floor. Earlier in the day, Decker had voted in a committee to pass the contracts.
Decker, a former carpenter and current member of the BACWI, a bricklayer’s union, said his time as a union negotiator steered his vote against the contracts.
“Like it or not, state employees are going to have to negotiate four years of contracts with a new governor," Decker said in a statement. "Before I came to the Senate I negotiated contracts for bricklayers, and one of the worst things you can do is poke a sharp stick in the eye of a new employer."
Jeff Leckwee, executive director of the BACWI, confirmed Decker was still a union member. Leckwee said he had not talked to Decker recently and did not know the reasons for his vote.
“I’m a little disappointed. I ought to think they should pass (the contracts) as soon as possible,” he said.
Leckwee said there were about 20 BACWI members that were represented in one of the public employee contracts rejected Wednesday by the Wisconsin Senate.
With the Doyle-backed contracts rejected, Gov.-elect Scott Walker could negotiate the 2009-2011 biennial contract. Walker will take office in January.
“Due to the delay of these contracts, I have all options on the table to tackle Wisconsin’s budget
challenges,” Walker said in a statement. “I plan to use the flexibility afforded to me to make the tough choices necessary to reduce state spending while still providing core government services.”
Greg Hazen, a locksmith at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, and vice president of AFSCME Local 1914, said union members had invested a lot of time and money into negotiations. He is concerned that public employees have completed 18-months service without a contract.
“Now it’s a lot more waiting. It depends on what Walker wants to do,” he said.